Posts Tagged ‘Covenant Theology

31
Aug
13

Baptist Covenant Theology–Stuart L. Brogden

The following is a link to a lecture Stuart Brogden delivered on Baptist Covenant Theology.

http://www.sermonaudio.com/sermoninfo.asp?SID=8261322081

It may differ slightly with my view of New Covenant Theology in that it may see all humanity under the old covenant, the Law, whereas I would see that covenant as one made exclusively with Israel treated paradigmatically as a microcosm of the human race. Israel’s response to that covenant stood representatively as the response of all in Adam. God’s elect [spiritual] receive the blessings of that works covenant, not because we were under it, but because we are in him who was born under it and fulfilled its every last requirement as our substitute.

The following is Stuart’s response to my question [by email] in regard to the differences he sees between his position and NCT:

From what I’ve read about NCT, I do not agree that God’s moral law is defined by what the NT re-published thereof. This is put forth as a NCT tenet in “The Cross – The Heart of NCT”; which sees the Decalogue as God’s moral law in so much as it is republished in the NT.

I see that moral law as pre-dating the Decalogue and being partially displayed in the Decalogue, which is no more than God’s testimony of His covenant with Israel. I do see categories of law with the Mosaic Covenant, but not in the same way as the WCF crowd does. Their view of the church = Israel distorts the Scripture, making a complex issue neat and easy to reduce to a catechism.

My answer is that, though I wrote the booklet to which he refers, “The Cross: The Heart of New Covenant Theology” years ago, I must have failed to make my position clear. Whatever I stated in that booklet that gave the impression that we believe the law of God is defined by what is republished in the New Testament, my position at this point is that God’s moral law [as I have stated in other places I prefer the term “righteous standard”] never changes. It antedates the Decalogue and survives its abrogation. The two commandments that embody that righteous standard, love to God and neighbor, are to be obeyed in different ways under different covenants. Love to God under the old covenant was expressed in obedience to so-called ceremonial commandments as well as through obedience to so-called moral commandments. The commandments that are published in the New Testament Scriptures are not so published to define “moral law” but to describe what obedience to that eternal, righteous standard looks like for a new covenant believer.

Regarding different aspects of the Mosaic covenant (moral, civil/judicial, and ceremonial), I do not disagree that such a character exists with individual commandments. There is clearly a distinction between the covenant itself, the Ten Words, and the commands God gave for the implementation of that covenant. My point is that it was not two parts of the Mosaic covenant that waxed old and was ready to vanish but the entire covenant. The biblical writers consistently refer to “LAW,” not “Moral law,””ceremonial law,” and “civil law.” It was the covenant that passed away, not parts of it. The only reason the Sabbath commandment is not repeated in the N. T. Scriptures is that it was the ceremonial sign of the old covenant that has now been fulfilled in Christ.

We are still required to keep and are now enabled to keep the righteous requirements of the law in terms of the principles set forth in the intricate legal system that was necessary to implement the old covenant. Yet, since we do not live in a Theocracy, and in my view are not intended to live in a Theocracy until the King returns, the laws regarding capital punishment, etc. no longer obtain. My view is that if any part of that covenant has been fulfilled and has therefore vanished, the covenant as a whole has vanished.

At any rate, whatever differences may remain between Stuart and me on these issues, I believe you will find the above referenced lecture helpful.

21
Aug
12

In These Last Days-Jesus The Messiah:The High Priest We Confess (Chapter 4)

CHAPTER FOUR
JESUS THE MESSIAH:
The High Priest Whom We Confess (Part One)

We turn now to the second major division of this epistle in which the writer urges us to fix our thoughts on “Jesus, the Great Priest we confess.” Due to the volume of the material in this epistle about Jesus’ priesthood, we will divide our treatment of it into two chapters. In the first, we will concern ourselves with the fundamental characteristics of priestly ministry and with the contrasts between the priestly orders of Aaron and Melchizedek. In the second, we will focus on Christ’s priestly dignity and ministry itself.

The aspect of our study on which we will focus in this chapter is, for the most part, contrastive. Given the nature of typology, there are necessarily areas in which Jesus’ priesthood corresponds to the priesthood of the old covenant. Yet, this epistle primarily emphasizes the dissimilarities between the priestly orders of Aaron and Melchizedek. The author intends to show the vast superiority of Jesus’ priesthood in Melchizedek’s order to that of Aaron and the Levitical priests. This epistle sets Jesus forth as “better” than all the messengers and mediators of the old covenant. Yet, we must be careful that we do not misunderstand the author’s meaning. He does not mean that the prophets, priests, and kings of the old covenant continue to be prophets, priests, and kings, but Jesus is superior to them, i.e., they are good, but He is better. If we understand him this way, we have totally missed his meaning. We can only understand his teaching if we understand, with him, the nature of biblical typology. Not only is the antitype always “better” than the type. It also supersedes the type. When our author argues that Jesus, a priest in the order of Melchizedek, is better than the priests of the Levitical order, he does not mean that both continue in existence but one is superior to the other. He means that Jesus has replaced Aaron and his sons as the priest of God’s people. When he argues that the new covenant is a “better covenant” than the old, he intends for us to understand that the new covenant has replaced the old covenant. In reality, it was not possible for these Hebrews to return to the old covenant system. The only thing that remained of Judaism was the empty shell of an outmoded religion that was totally void of divine sanction.

The Nature of Priestly Ministry

The author begins his argument in Hebrews four by showing that Jesus, our Great Priest, has done for new covenant believers what none of the priests of the old covenant could do. Yet, that which He has done for us is exactly what a priest is intended to do for those whom he represents. Through the redemption He has accomplished, He now invites and enables believers to approach confidently the Sovereign of the universe, knowing that He will receive us (4:14-16). The writer then assures us that our priest is not unfeeling and uncaring. No, He is able to sympathize with us, since He, being a true human being, has felt all that we feel (4:15).

He continues this line of thought in the opening verses of Hebrews five. Here he describes the fundamental qualities and duties of every high priest. In this part of his argument, he shows the similarities between Jesus’ priesthood and the Levitical priesthood.

Chosen from among Men
The first essential characteristic of one who holds the office of high priest is that he be taken from among men, i.e., human beings. Since the function of a high priest is to represent human beings, he must be a human being. He is to act on their behalf in matters related to God. His chief duty was to offer gifts and sacrifices for sin. The author wants us to understand that the priest’s duty was not to mediate disputes between human beings, but to represent men before God. Therefore, his work involved the offering of gifts and sacrifices for sin.

Appointed by God

Integral to the author’s argument is the fact that no priest entered the high priest’s office on his own initiative; God appointed him to it (5:1). God appointed to office every true priest of Aaron’s order. Jesus was no different. God appointed Him to be an everlasting priest with greater dignity than all the priests of the old covenant system. This will become clear as our author unfolds his argument in his exposition of Psalm 110. This he begins to do in Hebrews 5:5-6 but, having interrupted himself with a parenthetical warning, does not complete it until chapter seven. He writes,

5:4No one takes this honor upon himself; he must be called by God, just as Aaron was. 5So Christ also did not take upon himself the glory of becoming a high priest. But God said to him,
“You are my Son;
Today I have become your Father.”
6And he says in another place,
“You are a priest forever,
in the order of Melchizedek.”

In citing these two Old Testament references together, the author underscores that the Messiah is both king and priest in one person. The Son whom God has exalted to the throne is also the eternal priest who pleads our cause before God.

Sympathetic

Another indispensable requirement for one who functions as a priest is that he be able to sympathize with those whom he represents. Our author refers to this requirement in verses two and three of this chapter. Concerning this necessary ability in those who function in the priesthood he writes, “He can deal gently with the ignorant and wayward, since he himself is beset with weakness. Because of this he is bound to offer sacrifice for his sins as well as for those of the people.” Yet, in this passage, unlike 4:15, his focus is not merely on the ability of the high priest to sympathize. Here he concentrates on the need of mere human priests to offer sacrifice for their own sinful weaknesses. Still, we need to appreciate that Jesus’ sinlessness in sharing our human weaknesses makes Him no less sensitive to our feelings and failings. Philip Hughes writes, “That Christ did not share in our sinfulness does not in any degree invalidate this fellow feeling for us and with us in our weakness. The common ground with us was that of his fellow humanity which was subject to temptation or testing.” (P. Hughes, Commentary on Hebrews, p.177).

Representative

As mentioned above, the function of the High Priest is to act on behalf of those whom he is chosen to represent. Since those whom he represents are sinners who need to be reconciled to a holy God, his work necessarily involves the offering of gifts and sacrifices for sins. Thus, the High Priest approaches God with a sacrifice intended to stay His wrath against sinners.

Jesus, A Better Priest

Jesus’ superiority over the priests of the Levitical system is due primarily to the superiority of the priestly order in which He functions to the Aaronic order. There is an integral relationship between the nature of His priesthood and the covenant that He mediates. The writer makes it plain that if He were on earth, the law would forbid His intrusion into the priesthood (7:13-14; 8:3-4). The very fact that Jesus is able to function as our Great Priest shows that He must be a priest of a different order and provides convincing evidence that God has abrogated the old covenant. Having established this fact, our author then shows that Jesus is a better priest, who mediates a better covenant, offers a better sacrifice in a better sanctuary, and perfects better worshippers.

Who was Melchizedek?

There has been a great deal of speculation concerning the identity and significance of Melchizedek. Though it might be interesting to examine the history of such speculation concerning Melchizedek, it is beyond the scope and purpose of this study to do so (If the reader is interested in such an investigation see: Bruce Demarest. A History of Interpretation of Hebrews 7,1-10 from the Reformation to the Present. Tübingin: J.C.B Mohr (Paul Siebeck), 1976., and Philip E. Hughes. A Commentary on the Epistle to the Hebrews. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans. reprint, 1990, pp.237-45). We will approach this study on the presupposition that Melchizedek was an historic person who stood as a type of Christ, the King-Priest of the new covenant.

There are only two Old Testament references to Melchizedek. The first, Genesis 14:17-20, records Abraham’s historic encounter with him as the former returned from rescuing his nephew, Lot. The second, Psalm 110:4, predicts that the Messiah will be a regal priest after the order of Melchizedek. All that we know about Melchizedek and the nature of His priestly order is what we read in these passages that form the basis for our author’s argument in Hebrews 7.

Apart from the Messianic prediction of Psalm 110, it is unlikely that either we or the author of this epistle would have (apart from the Spirit’s guidance) taken much notice of this man Melchizedek. He appears briefly in the Genesis narrative, then vanishes, never to be seen or heard from again. The only information that we receive about him is that he was the king of Salem, a priest of God Most High, who, having brought out bread and wine, blessed Abraham and received from him a tenth of everything he had taken in battle. Some, e.g., James Moffatt,(Moffatt. A Critical and Exegetical Commentary on the Epistle to the Hebrews. ICC. Edinburgh), 1924, p. 90ff)have advanced the view that our author engaged in fanciful allegory in bringing what he did out of this historic account. Yet, the reality is that our author has simply expounded the clear Messianic prediction of Psalm 110. He has not read anything back into the Old Testament Scriptures. He has merely recognized truths that God had already revealed.

Exposition of Hebrews Seven

The argument of Hebrews seven is simply an exposition of the three facets of the Messianic prediction in Psalm 110:4. Though our author does not follow the Psalmist’s order, and there is some overlap in his treatment of these statements, we can outline his argument as follows:

1. The LORD has sworn and will not change His mind: “You are a priest forever, in the order of Melchizedek.” (7:1-15).

2. The LORD has sworn and will not change His mind: “You are a priest forever, in the order of Melchizedek.” (7:16, 23-25).

3. The LORD has sworn and will not change His mind: “You are a priest forever, in the order of Melchizedek.” (7:17-22). Verses 26-28 draw a sharp contrast between the priests that the law appoints and the Priest that God appoints with an oath.

In expounding each of these statements, our author shows that Christ, as a priest after the order of Melchizedek, is superior to the Levitical priests. He is superior to them because the priestly order to which He belongs is superior to theirs. His priesthood is better than theirs because, unlike theirs, His priesthood lasts forever. His priesthood is better than theirs because His appointment to office was attended by the solemnity of God’s oath. God never promised that the priestly order of Aaron would endure forever. Both the priestly practice of the individual priests within that order and the order itself were limited in duration. God intended that priestly order, which was integrally related to the old covenant, to last only as long as the Law (Mosaic covenant) lasted. Our author argues cogently that God’s stated intention to establish the Messiah as a priest of a different order clearly signalled the eventual termination of the Levitical priesthood (7:11-16).

A Priest of a Better Order

Our author’s first concern is to describe the characteristics of the Melchizedekian priestly order. His is not primarily interested in expounding the implications of the Genesis narrative. He merely does so to explain the phrase “a priest after the order of Melchizedek.” It is important to recognize that in drawing conclusions from the Genesis narrative, he does so, not by considering Melchizedek the man, but Melchizedek the priest. Thus, when he asserts that Melchizedek was “without father, without mother, without descent [pedigree] having neither beginning of days nor end of life,” he is describing the nature of his priestly order (If Melchizedek were being presented as a type of Jesus, the man, then the typical correspondences would fail. Though Jesus had no human father, He did have a mother. Melchizedek had “neither father nor mother.” Jesus’ genealogy is set forth in the Gospels of Matthew and Luke. Melchizedek was “without genealogy.” Jesus, as to His humanity, had beginning of life. Melchizedek had “neither beginning of days nor end of life.” Where, then, is the typical correspondence?

If, on the other hand, someone should argue that it is in the eternal, divine nature of the Messiah that our author finds a typical correspondence to Melchizedek, they would create another difficulty. What would such an contention have to do with our author’s line of argument? It is plain that his purpose is to show, not only that Jesus is a priest who is superior to Aaron and his sons, but also how it is possible for Jesus to be a priest at all. This has nothing to do with His deity. The question is, “How can one who is born in the tribe of Judah officiate as a priest?” He does not answer that such things make no difference because the Messiah is the eternal God. Though that is quite true as an ontological affirmation concerning the person of the Messiah, it completely misses the point. Our author has consistently argued that our Great Priest is a true man who learned obedience through the things that He suffered. He is one who feels with us because He has been put to the test just like we are. It is this man who has suffered for us. It is this man who has ascended into heaven and entered the heavenly holy place. It is He who now appears in the presence of God for us. It is He who is coming again in power and great glory. How is it that this man can act as our priest if He is without the credentials prescribed by Mosaic legislation? This is the question that our author answers. It is neither Jesus’ humanity nor His deity to which Melchizedek corresponds typically. It is His priestly ministry that is in question). He is not merely arguing from the silence of the Genesis narrative concerning his birth, death, parentage, etc. that as a man, Melchizedek was a type of Him who is without beginning of days or end of life.(Many have supposed that our author argues from the silence of the Genesis narrative concerning the birth and death of Melchizedek that the Holy Spirit intended, by this silence, to indicate that he was a type of Christ who, as eternal God, was truly “without beginning of days or end of life.” I agree with John Brown that to argue that “it is testified of him that he lives” merely from the fact that we have no account of his death “. . .savors more of rabbinical trifling than anything else.” Hebrews p. 333.) He has no interest, at this point, in pursuing an ontological argument concerning the person of the Messiah. He concerns himself instead with the nature of Jesus’ priesthood. John Brown, in his usual perceptive manner, has identified this as the key to understanding this otherwise difficult verse. He wrote, “The key to the true meaning of the passage is to be found in the peculiar view the Apostle is here taking of Melchisedec. He is speaking of him as a priest; and as a priest he is said to have had no father, or mother, or genealogy. The last statement is explanatory of the two former (italics mine).(J. Brown. Hebrews, p.327).

To show that Jesus is a Priest of a better order, our author first describes the ways in which Melchizedek’s order is superior to Aaron’s. He then recites the ways in which Abraham, the patriarch, acknowledged this superiority. Finally, he argues that the Levitical priesthood must have been inferior, since the prophecy of Psalm 110:4 predicted that God was going to replace it. We will now consider each of these factors individually.

Characteristics of the Melchizedekian Order

No Pedigree Needed

When our author refers to Melchizedek as “without father, without mother,” he indicates that the priestly order to which he belonged required no pedigree. A priest’s parentage was of no importance. This is clearly in contrast to the requirements of the Mosaic legislation concerning qualifications for the priesthood. Under the Levitical system a person could not function in the priestly ministry unless he could show that he belonged to the tribe of Levi. Remember that those priests who returned from the captivity were not able to officiate as priests until they could prove their priestly pedigree. Of them we read in Ezra 2:62-63; Neh. 7:64-65,

These searched for their family records, but could not find them and so were excluded from the priesthood as unclean. The governor, therefore, ordered them not to eat any of the most sacred food until there should be a priest ministering with the Urim and Thummim. (See also Num. 16:39).

There are at least two reasons why this is important to the argument at hand. First, it indicates that the dignity of the priests of this order was not personal, but one conferred on them by the Law (Old Covenant). Their right to receive tithes and grant priestly blessings was a power conferred on them by legal decree (Heb. 7:5). Melchizedek, on the other hand, possessed a dignity that was both inherent and personal. His priesthood was unencumbered by the requirements of Mosaic legislation.

Not only does the law confer this dignity, however. It also defines its boundaries and delimits the area of its validity. Precedence it gives, but only over fellow Israelites who like the priests themselves are “descended from the loins of Abraham”. This is why the designation of Abraham as “patriach”[sic] (verse 4) is so pointed. The whole complex of Law-Priesthood-tithes is designed to work, and does work, within the boundaries of Abraham’s people. But the entire scheme is relativised by the spectacle of Abraham (the father of them all, no less!) giving tithes to one who stood completely outside the system. And this, not on the basis of legal obligation, but out of his free recognition of one who stood superior to himself [italics mine]. Herein lies the greatness of Melchizedek. . . he is one who stands quite above the entire structure of Law and Priesthood, dependent on neither legal nor levitical descent and yet acknowledged as superior by none other than Father Abraham. (Graham Hughes. Hebrews and Hermeneutics, p. 16.).

There is a second reason why this is important. If Jesus’ fitness to act as our High Priest were dependent on proper pedigree as required by the law, He would be totally disqualified. If the Mosaic covenant and the Levitical system that accompanied it were still in force, Jesus could not possibly be our Great High Priest.

7:12For when there is a change of the priesthood, there must also be a change of the law. 13He of whom these things are said belonged to a different tribe, and no one from that tribe has ever served at the altar. 14For it is clear that our Lord descended from Judah, and in regard to that tribe Moses said nothing about priests (Heb 7:12-14).

Yet, His lack of priestly pedigree presents no problem. The priestly order in which He officiates depends not on ancestral regulations, but on personal dignity, derived from the power of an indestructible life (7:16).

No Term Limitations

The second characteristic of Melchizedek’s priestly order to which our author calls our attention is its lack of term limitations. Melchizedek, as a priest, was “without beginning of days or end of life.” This does not mean that Melchizedek, as a type of Christ, continues to be a priest for eternity. It means that his priesthood is coextensive with his life. As long as he lived, he continued to function as a priest. John Brown wrote, “The meaning is “Melchisedec continued a priest during the whole of his life. He did not, like the Levitical priests, at an appointed period cease to minister; while he continued to live he continued to minister.””(Brown, Hebrews, p. 328). Notice the contrast between Melchizedek and the Levitical priests on whose ministry the Mosaic legislation placed strict temporal limitations. The age limit for those ministering in the tabernacle is repeated several times in the fourth chapter of Numbers. The regulation was as follows, “Count all the men from thirty to fifty years of age who come to serve in the work of the tent of meeting” (Num 4:2, 23, 30, 35, 39, 43, 47). As priests these men from the tribe of Levi had a beginning of days and an end of life. No such limitations were placed on Melchizedek.

No National Limitations

A third characteristic of Melchizedek’s priestly order is that it was not limited to one nation. Melchizedek was a priest of God Most High who functioned outside Israel’s national boundaries. In fact, he was a priest long before God ever established Israel as a nation. His order of priesthood antedates and supersedes the Levitical priesthood. It was not limited to one nation, but is universal in scope. Jesus, as a priest in Melchizedek’s order, represents people of every nation. He intercedes for all who come to God by Him.

Abraham’s Acknowledgement of Melchizedek’s superiority

Our author begins this section of his argument by calling us to consider how great this man Melchizedek was. Then, he substantiates his assertion of Melchizedek’s greatness by citing the details of Abraham’s interaction with him. He argues his case by first affirming Abraham’s greatness and importance in relation to his posterity–”the patriarch Abraham.” Then he shows that Abraham, from whom Levi and his sons descended, received blessing from and paid tithes to Melchizedek. In both actions, Abraham, who is greater than those who descended from him, is shown to be inferior to Melchizedek (7:4-10).

Abraham’s Greatness

Our author sets Abraham’s greatness before us when he refers to him as “the patriarch Abraham.” The word “patriarch” (ruling father) was a title used in the Bible of only a few men. It occurs only four times in the New Testament Scriptures (Acts 2:29; 7:8,9; Heb 7:4). In each case, the writers used it of men who stood as princes or rulers of their families. Our author used it of Abraham who was the progenitor of the entire nation (Heb 7:4). Stephen used it to refer to the twelve sons of Israel who stood at the head of their respective tribes (Acts 7:8-9). Also, Peter used it of David who stood at the head of Israel’s royal family (Acts 2:29). Abraham stands at the head of Israel’s family tree. He is the patriarch of the patriarchs. It seemed inconceivable to the Jews that anyone could have been greater than father Abraham. When they confronted Jesus about His claims they asked, “You are not greater than our father Abraham, are you” (John 8:53)?

Yet, the true greatness of Abraham went beyond the fact that he was the physical progenitor of the entire nation. It consisted in his position as the covenant head of the nation. The author of this epistle describes him as “him who had the promises” (7:6). Later (v. 10), when he tells us that “Levi, who collects the tenth, paid the tenth through Abraham, because when Melchizedek met Abraham, Levi was still in the body of his ancestor,” he has more than natural generation in mind. He was thinking of the fact that Abraham acted as a representative for all the heirs of the covenant promises in him. John Owen expressed the thought this way, “Abraham [was] acting as a covenanter in the name of his posterity.” (Owen, Hebrews, p.387.) Along the same line, John Brown made the following penetrating comment,

To him [Abraham] the promises of the peculiar privileges to be bestowed on his posterity were given. He was as it were, not the fountain indeed, but the reservoir from which they flowed out to his posterity. Every religious privilege they enjoyed, they enjoyed because they were his posterity. In his person there was concentrated all the sacred dignity which belonged to the peculiar people of God. Whatever was venerable and holy about the Israelites, or the system under which they were placed, was essentially to be found in their patriarch.

(Brown, Hebrews, p. 329.)

Abraham, both as the natural progenitor of the nation of Israel and as the covenant head and representative of all the heirs of the covenant promises, was greater than all his posterity.

Melchizedek’s Superiority

Before we consider how Abraham acknowledged Melchizedek’s superiority to himself, we should consider Melchizedek’s inferiority to Christ. Melchizedek was only a type, a model of the great priest who was to come. One of the plain principles governing the study of biblical typology is that the type is always inferior to the fulfillment (antitype). Our author’s argument runs like this: Christ (the antitype) is superior to Melchizedek (the antitype), who is superior to Abraham, who is superior to all his posterity, including Levi and his sons. Therefore, Christ, our Great Priest, is superior to all the priests of the Levitical order.

Our author argues that, by two acts, Abraham acknowledged Melchizedek’s superiority. He gave him a tenth of the spoils of battle and received his priestly blessing. In receiving Melchizedek’s priestly blessing, Abraham acknowledged his inferiority to this priest of God Most High, since “. . .without doubt the lesser person is blessed by the greater” (7:7). Had Abraham been superior to Melchizedek, he would have pronounced the blessing rather than receiving it.

That Abraham paid a tenth to Melchizedek illustrates his acknowledgement of the latter’s superiority in at least two ways. First, the act of paying a tithe to Melchizedek was, in itself, an acknowledgement of his spiritual superiority. People never pay religious homage to those whom they perceive to be inferior to them in sacred dignity. Besides this, Abraham, as far as we can tell, paid voluntary homage to Melchizedek, simply because he perceived his superior dignity as a priest of God Most High. By contrast, the priests of the Levitical order received tithes because the law required it. Our author writes, “Now the law requires the descendants of Levi who become priests to collect a tenth from the people–that is, their brothers–even though their brothers are descended from Abraham” (v. 5). The Israelites paid tithes to these priests not because they perceived in them an inherent dignity and superiority, but because the law required it.

Summary

Thus far we have learned that all the essential characteristics of one who functions in the priestly ministry are found in Jesus, our Great High Priest. He has been chosen from men and appointed by God to be a sympathetic representative for all who come to God by Him. In this respect, He is like the priests of the Levitical order. Yet, as the great antitypical priest to which they pointed, He is infinitely superior to them. One reason for this superiority is that He belongs to a superior priestly order. He is a priest “in the order of Melchizedek.” His qualifications for the priestly ministry rest not on ancestral pedigree but on His essential dignity. Unlike the priests of the Levitical system, the duration of His ministry is not limited by age or death. He is a priest as long as He lives. Finally, His ministry, unlike theirs, is not confined to the covenant nation, Israel. He is a universal priest who is able to save completely all who come to God by Him.

26
Apr
12

The New Covenant and the Abrahamic Covenant.

I recently read an interesting article by R. Scott Clark, a professor at Westminster Theological Seminary of California. There were several aspects of his article I greatly appreciated. For one, he didn’t call Baptists “heretics.” He actually referred to them as his friends. Additionally, he acknowledged what anyone who has read the NT Scriptures ought to acknowledge, that the Mosaic covenant was a temporary covenant that has been fulfilled and passed away. I found much in his article with which I agreed. There were, however, a few area in which I found disagreement with his statements. I don’t intend to address all of them here, but the following are the most salient:

1. He wrote, “What was it that they did not receive? If we read Jeremiah 31 absolutely, the way some would have us read it, then we should should have to say that none of these received the forgiveness of sins.”

My response: I don’t know who would make such an outlandish statement, but certainly no one who holds to NCT would do so.

2. Concerning Hebrews 11: 39 he wrote: What they did not receive was the fulfillment of all of God’s promises in the new covenant. They had the realities by faith but they did not have the realities by sight. We have what was promised to them. We have the new covenant. We have semi-eschatological blessings. Heaven has broken into history and we, in Christ, have been taken up to heaven. The types and shadows have been fulfilled. What they only saw typologically, we see in reality. We are not yet bodily in glory, however, and thus we must persevere in faith. This is why we must “lay aside also every weight” (12:1).

My response: I believe this is exactly right. They believed the promises; we enjoy the reality. There is no doubt believers before the advent of Christ were declared righteous based on Christ’s redemptive work. The failure of the Law and its typical sacrificial system to quiet the guilty conscience caused them to look forward, based on God’s promises, to the one about whom the promises, types, and shadows of the OT Scriptures spoke. Though they were justified, God had not yet revealed to them the basis of that justification.

What we must realize is that even Abraham belonged to this group. It is not that we look back to him, but that he looked forward to us. Even he lived in the realm of promise; we live in the realm of fulfillment. Circumcision was a typical representation of regeneration. It belonged to the physical and material seed of Abraham as a typical representation of what would be true of his spiritual seed. According to Jesus’ words in John 8, it is possible to be “Abraham’s seed” and not Abraham’s seed at the same time. I think there can be no question that believers from both the circumcision and the uncircumcision belong to the same family of God. Still, the circumcised [physical] “seed” of Abraham descending either from Ishmael or Isaac did not, by virtue of their physical descent, belong to that family. There is a continuity between the Abrahamic covenant which Dr. Clark identifies as an administration of “the Covenant of Grace” and the New Covenant. The point of continuity between the Abrahamic covenant and the New Covenant is not circumcision, but Christ. He is the promised “SEED.” Circumcision was a physical rite and belonged to the physical seed of Abraham. Apart from its typical significance, it had nothing to do with the spiritual seed. Circumcision typically foreshadowed the New Covenant blessing of regeneration, not baptism. Unlike the Abrahamic Covenant, the New Covenant is not concerned with land promises and material blessings. It was possible to be part of the Abrahamic covenant apart from faith. That is to say, Abraham had merely physical offspring and spiritual offspring. Circumcision had nothing to do with the spiritual descendants apart from its typical significance. It was not children of believing parents under the Abrahamic Covenant who were circumcised; it was simply the children of parents, whether believing or unbelieving. The mistake of Covenant Theology is that they assume that all facets of the Abrahamic Covenant are continuous. The reality is, faith and union with Christ are the points of continuinty.

There are no heirs of the New Covenant who are not the spiritual children of believing Abraham. He no longer has any “seed” who are not united to Jesus Christ by faith. Paul wrote, “If you are Christ’s, then are you Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to promise” (Gal. 3:29). Abraham now has no other seed apart from Christ and those who are in him by faith. The New Covenant has no merely physical heirs.

3. He wrote: My Baptist friends tend to talk about the new covenant in ways that do not actually conform to what Scripture says about the new covenant. My Baptist friends tend to make the new covenant more eschatological than it actually is. Were the new covenant as eschatological as they seem to think we would not expect to find the sort of language about the administration of the covenant of the new covenant that one finds in Hebrews 10.

According to Hebrews 10:26–31 members of the new covenant church may find themselves in even more jeopardy than existed under Moses. If the new covenant has the sort of characteristics some would have us believe we would not have expected this sort of language:

Anyone who has set aside the law of Moses dies without mercy on the evidence of two or three witnesses. How much worse punishment, do you think, will be deserved by the one who has spurned the Son of God, and has profaned the blood of the covenant by which he was sanctified, and has outraged the Spirit of grace? (Heb 10:28–29)

My response: These words pertain to those who have professed faith in Jesus as the Messiah but were in danger of going back to Judaism. The Mosaic covenant prescribed physical death for those who disobeyed; those who turn their backs on Christ, the only sacrifice for sin, prove they were never in covenant with him and face certain eternal destruction. There is nothing in this statement that is out of character with new covenant teaching. Who is there that understands the Scriptures aright who denies there are false professors in the church?

4. He wrote: Reformed theology explains this phenomenon by observing that there are two ways of existing in the one covenant of grace (Rom 2:28; see also this booklet). Not everyone who is admitted to the visible covenant community actually receives the benefits of the covenant of grace.

My response: No joke. Who in his right mind and who understands biblical truth says they do? Of course, the visible assembly is comprised of believers and false believers, but as stated previously for the Baptist, this is by default not by design. We know unbelieving children are not partakers of the covenant from the outset.

5. He wrote: When Reformed folk look at v. 38 [Acts 2] and the command to the heads of thousand of households to “repent and be baptized” we see the analogy with Abraham, who was not an infant, but who was also the head of a household. He was initiated into the covenant community as an adult and his children were initiated into the covenant community as infants. Those heads of those households were in the same position as Abraham. The analogy with Abraham is only strengthened by the invocation of the Abrahamic covenantal formula: “for the promise is to you and to your children.” The essence of the covenant of grace remains unchanged: “I will be a God to you and to your children.” My Baptist friends object by pointing out the inclusion of Gentiles. I reply by saying, so what? The Reformed argument is not that Abraham was not typological. Of course Gentiles are being included. That is the fulfillment of the promise to Abraham, that God would make him the father of many nations. This is exactly what Paul argues in Romans 4. Abraham is the father of all who believe, both Jew and Gentile. The inclusion of Gentiles does not weaken the Reformed case; it strengthens it by completing the analogy with Abraham.

My response: The issue is not the inclusion of the Gentiles, but the addition of the phrase, “even to as many as the Lord, our God, shall call.” There is no promise to the uncalled [unregenerate] children of believers any more than there is a promise to unregenerate Gentiles. The promise is to you who are called and to your children who are called and to Gentiles who are called. There are no promises to unbelieving children of believers.

6. He wrote: In discussions with my Baptist friends it seems as if this question, eschatology, is a central element to the discussion. When Baptists speak about the new covenant they tend to speak in eschatological (consummation) terms rather than in semi-eschatological (inaugurated) terms.

My response: I don’t know to which Baptists he is referring, but those Baptists who believe in classic New Covenant Theology believe that though the New Covenant promises have been inaugurated, they have not yet been consummated. I have written on this subject extensively since the early 90’s. Anyone wishing to verify that this has been my view may do so at http://www.new-covenant-theology.org.

7. He wrote: Baptists know that they, like Reformed congregations, have unregenerate members but by administering baptism only to those who make a profession of faith they are doing what they can to ensure a regenerate church membership.

My response: As I have stated in a number of places in my writings, we Baptist know it is impossible to guarantee a regenerate church membership. Through the process of church discipline we seek to maintain that standard, still we know there will be some in the visible church who are unregenerate. The difference is,ours is, in part, an unregenerate membership by default; theirs is unregenerate by design. There is no evidence in the NT Scriptures that anyone other than professed believers were to be considered part of the visible church.

In reading Reformed writers, one would think they were seeking to explain all the incidences of infant sprinkling in the New Testament Church and the biblical commands to engage in such a practice. If such were the case, one could understand such feeble attempts to justify such a practice. The reality is, no such commands or examples exist. If they could offer just one command or example, perhaps one could understand why they feel the need to justify such a practice. Until they do, I plan to hold steadfastly to my belief that baptism is for believers only.

25
Apr
12

The Distinctiveness of the New Covenant

There are clear differences between Covenant Theology and New Covenant Theology. There are also clear points of agreement between them. One of the straw man arguments CT often uses against NCT is that the latter believes God based justification prior to the establishment of the New Covenant in the redemptive work of Christ on works of obedience to the Law. That is clearly a false charge. We do believe justification is based on obedience to the Law, but it is Christ’s legal obedience, not ours.

This is what one of CT’s proponents has written,

The problem with Non-covenantal thinking is that it consistently shows an inability to understand that Covenantal progress in redemption allows a maturation that is significant but still connected to the original covenant. The danger with Non-covenantal (i.e. Baptist) thinking in [is?] its inevitable tendency to emphasize total differences between covenants as opposed to maturative inspired distinctions in the one covenant of grace is that they often end up with one way of salvation for the old covenant saints with a new way of salvation for the new covenant saints which and this by necessity implies a God who is janus faced with His stern mien turned to His old covenant people and gentle faced turned to the new covenant people.

Welcome to “Straw Man City.” We do not emphasize the total differences between covenants. We believe there are likenesses between the OT covenants and the New Covenant. This is why we believe there is a type/antitype or a promise/fulfillment relationship between those covenants. If they were totally different, such a correspondence would not be possible. Secondly, we do not believe any sinner has ever been justified apart from the free grace of God and the redemptive work of Jesus Christ.

There is no question the Abrahamic Covenant finds its spiritual fulfillment in Christ. By that I mean the spiritual, not the physical and material promises of that covenant are fulfilled in Christ, not that the physical and material promises must be “spiritualized.” There are no spiritual blessings promised to anyone apart from spiritual union with Abraham’s SEED, Christ.

This same proponent of CT stated that he prefers to talk about “the Covenantal progress of redemption” rather than “differing administrations of one covenant of grace.” In my view, it all amounts to the same thing. There is still, in his view, but one covenant of grace that never changes in character in any of its manifestations. It simply matures as history progresses. The illustration he uses is that his son is still the same son whether he is three or eighteen. One wonders how the writer of the Epistle to the Hebrews could state that the New Covenant God established with Israel was “. . .not like the covenant I [he] made with their fathers. . . .” (8:9a). It would seem, would it not, that these two covenants were different. One difference is that God disregarded them because they did not continue in his covenant (8:9b). That will never happen to the heirs of the New Covenant because all the conditions of that covenant have been fulfilled by Christ, our Covenant Head.

The question I can’t seem to get an answer for is whether he believes everyone who was born into one of the progressive stages of that covenant [insert your own expression if you don’t like mine] was a redeemed child of God. If the Mosaic covenant was but a phase in the covenantal progress of redemption and not essentially different from the New Covenant in Christ, then it would seem to follow that everyone born under that covenant was redeemed by the blood of Christ, just as everyone who is united to Christ under the New Covenant is redeemed and justified. Supposedly, it is all the same covenant

I think it is fairly clear from NT teaching that all the physical descendants of Abraham are not God’s sons (See John, 8 for example). Perhaps someone could explain to me why, if these are all progressively revealed stages of the same covenant, progressively working itself out in redemptive history, being born into the Abrahamic covenant and born under the Mosaic covenant does not necessarily translate into being justified freely by God’s grace. Certainly, being united to Christ and thus becoming heirs of the New Covenant secures for us all the blessings of that covenant. If that covenant is simply a part of the “covenantal progress of redemption” and is no different in character from the Abrahamic, Mosaic, Davidic etc. covenants, why didn’t participation in those covenants guarantee the justification of all who were participants in them?

The only conclusion I can come to is that his view of the NC and its heirs is different from mine, and, I would suggest, from that of the biblical writers. Being a Paedo-baptist, he clearly believes the covenant community is made up of believers and their children. This is a doctrine that has no legitimate biblical foundation whatsoever. In reality, it is part of the vestigial remains of the Papacy. The truth is, the Reformers maintained the same sacral view as the Papists. They believed the church consisted of all within a given location. In Calvin’s case, “the church” was co-extensive with Geneva. Everyone born in the city was “baptized into the church.” If these little moistened vipers truly became part of the covenant community, [but they didn’t] then there is no difference between the Mosaic covenant and the New Covenant. One enters both of them, not by a spiritual renewal, but by an “accident” of birth. But see, John 1:13.

It was necessary for those who were born under the Mosaic covenant to exhort others born under the same covenant to know the LORD. There were many members of that covenant nation who clearly needed such an exhortation. Their conduct made it clear they had no knowledge of or love for Jehovah.

Every member of the NC community is so through sovereign calling and regeneration. It is wrong to read Acts 2:39 as if it teaches the promise of the Holy Spirit is for believer’s children merely by virtue of their physical birth whether they believe or not. The text continues, “even to as many as the Lord, our God, shall call.” No longer do we need to say to members of the NC community, “Know the Lord, for they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest” (Heb. 8:11).

04
Apr
12

Fifteen Tenets of Classic New Covenant Theology

I recently read on [what used to be ] a New Covenant blog site some concerns of a dear brother who questioned the viability of New Covenant Theology given the differences that exist between those who claim an affinity for it.  I thought it might be helpful to post what I believe are the major tenets of New Covenant Theology and try to assess what is essential to that position.

Years ago, I attempted to define the position of New Covenant Theology in a booklet entitled “The Cross, the Heart of New Covenant Theology.” I never intended that eschatology [the doctrine of last things] be an essential part of the New Covenant Theology position.  I had always been essentially a “Pan-Millennialist,” believing that everything would pan out O.K. in the end. Almost immediately, there were those who joined the movement who, as Progressive Dispensationalists, presented ideas that departed markedly from some of the ideas I had set forth.  Since one of them later wrote a book on New Covenant Theology, I suppose he has done more to define the position than I did.  Still, it seems to me there are certain positions within what I called “New Covenant Theology” that preclude a Dispensational view, progressive or otherwise.

In my view, any viewpoint that entertains a national restitution of Israel as the people of God, or a re-institution of the sacrificial system and Levitical priesthood etc., is not New Covenant Theology.

There are several key elements that I believe constitute New Covenant Theology without which it would be something else altogether.  I wish to simply list a number of them without a great deal of explication.  It is my hope that these tenets find general agreement among those who have claimed to hold to New Covenant Theology and provide a forum for a discussion of those details in which we disagree.  These tenets are as follows:

1.    Given that, biblically speaking, a covenant is a unilateral decree and not an agreement between two or more persons, we have no problem with the idea that there was a “pre-fall covenant of works” with Adam.  Its terms were these–you will die as soon as you disobey.

What we have difficulty with is the idea that God promised Adam and all his posterity eternal life based on his perfect obedience during a probationary period.  What he was promised was that he would certainly die if he disobeyed God’s one prohibition.  He would continue to live as long as he obeyed, but there is no evidence he would ever have been confirmed in righteousness at any point.

2.    We have no difficulty with the idea that every sinner who has ever been justified before God, was justified through faith alone, based on the redemptive work of Christ alone.  This does not mean God established an over-arching “Covenant of grace” in Genesis 3:15, and that every subsequent covenant is part of that covenant.

3.    The New Covenant and the Old Covenant are distinct covenants, not different administrations of the same covenant.

4.    The Law, the covenant by which God constituted Israel a nation before him, was a homogeneous whole.  There were certain elements of it that pertained to the civil state; others that pertained to the ceremonial system; still others were “moral” in nature.  Biblical writers never speak of these aspects of the law as though they are separable.  If Jesus has fulfilled the “Law.” it is not merely one or two aspects of the law he has fulfilled, but the entire covenant.

5.    Israel was a typical representation of the church.  As such, it was neither “the church” in the Old Testament nor were it and the church separate and eternally distinct peoples of God.  Nothing that is predicated of natural and national Isreal has the same meaning as the same terms used to describe the New Covenant people of God.  The Hebrews can be both Abraham’s seed and not Abraham’s seed at the same time.  The continuous relationship between the Old and New Covenants is that of type to antitype and promise to fulfillment.

6.    We believe there is a continuity in God’s righteous standard between the Old Covenant and the New Covenant.  God requires no less under the New Covenant than under the Old Covenant.  In fact, we believe Christ’s law presents an even higher standard than did the Law of Moses.  Often mercy is more difficult to display than justice.

7. We believe the focus of the gospel is on what God has done in Christ rather than on what he is doing in us. We stand as righteous in God’s presence not only because we have been pardoned from our past sins but because we have the positive righteousness and active obedience of Christ imputed to us. His faithfulness and obedience up to and including his substutionary death on the cross [in itself an act of submission and active obedience to his Father] form the righteous basis of our justification before God. Justification is more than pardon. It is a declaration of a positive righteousness that we possess because we are in union with Jesus Christ the righteous one. We do not deny the necessity or importance or regeneration, but insist that we are what we are only “in Christ.” For this reason, New Covenant Theology is God-centered and Christ-centered rather than man-centered.

8.    The redemptive-historical approach stresses that this is the final age of human history. These are the last days. This is the time of fulfillment. We are those on whom “the fulfillment of the ages has come.” This does not mean God’s people have already fully and personally experienced everything that God has promised. Paul tells us in Romans 8:23 that we believers have the first-fruits, the pledge, of our inheritance, namely, the Holy Spirit. Yet, we, along with the rest of creation, go on groaning as we wait for the full enjoyment of all Jesus won for us at Calvary. The realm in which we are saved is the realm of confident expectation, not full fruition.

9.    The redemptive-historical approach does not minimize the reality that believers personally and individually enjoy the blessings that accrue from the redemptive work of Christ. Yet, the focus of this approach is not the individual’s experience, but God’s accomplishment of redemption in Christ. In Paul’s Epistles it is clear that, in his theological thought, all of redemptive history consists of God’s dealings with two representative men. All others are what they are in God’s sight by virtue of their relationship to one of these two men. A person is either in Adam or in Christ, whom Paul designated as the “last Adam” (1 Cor 15:45). Accordingly, every person belongs to one of two spheres or realms. They belong either to the old creation (this world, this present age) in Adam or the new creation in Christ. When Paul writes about the “new creation” (2 Cor 5:17, Gal 6:15), he is not talking about something that God does in the believer, but about the realm into which the believer has been transferred in Christ. Similarly, when he talks about “the flesh,” he is not making reference to the “sinful nature.” He refers instead to the environment into which sinners are born in Adam. This is that which characterizes the realm or age to which man, in Adam, belongs.

New Covenant Theology teaches the gospel is more about what God has accomplished in Christ than it is about what he is doing in us. This does not mean we deny the work of God’s Spirit in us or depreciate its importance.  It is simply that we believe his principal work is the application or the redemptive accomplishments of Christ.

10     God assures us that the full inheritance is ours, but the best (the experiential enjoyment of it) is yet to come.

The idea of present eschatological fulfillment creates an “already/not yet” tension between that which is true of the believer because of His redemptive-historical union with Christ and that which is not yet true in his experience. “If any man is in Christ, there is to him a new creation, old (that which belongs to a former time) has passed away, the new has come” (2 Cor 5:17).

11.    New Covenant Theology teaches that the Holy Spirit enables believers to do what the Law could only demand.  This does not mean New Covenant believers are without imperatives to be obeyed.  It simply means we will not be frustrated in our efforts to obey those imperatives.  Sin shall not have dominion over us since we are no longer under Law, but under grace.  Obeying rules out of gratitude is not legalism.  Legalism is the sense that I must obey rules to obtain or maintain God’s approval.

12.    New Covenant Theology does not teach that anyone has ever been without God’s Law in an absolute sense.  What we argue is that the Law in the sense of a covenant God made with Israel entered at Mt. Sinai and came to fulfillment at Mt. Calvary.

13.     Just as we are to interpret obscure passages in the light of clearer passages, so New Covenant Theology believes we are to interpret the Old Testament Scriptures in the light of New Testament revelation, not visa-versa.

14.    New Covenant Theology teaches that all the Law of God depends on two commandments–supreme love for God and appropriate love for ones neighbor.  Obedience to these two commandments is demonstrated in differing ways under different covenants.

15.    New Covenant Theology is in full agreement with neither  the assertions of Covenant Theology nor those of Dispensationalism.   Still, we readily acknowledge the correctness of their assertions when we find them to be consistent with the teachings of the Scriptures.

03
Mar
12

Sola Scriptura?

I ran across an article that is written by a guy who claims to be Calvinistic and Reformed. In his article, he argues that the only reason those who espouse New Covenant Theology do so is to find an excuse for denying baptism to children. In reality, none of us would deny baptism to children if those children were believers and gave a credible profession of faith. I suspect what he really meant is that we deny “baptism” to infants. Here we must plead guilty, if guilt it can be called. In his book, The Reformers and Their Stepchildren, Leonard Verduin was bold enough to assert that even Luther has misgivings about the practice of infant baptism, but lacked the political will and courage to oppose the practice. So much for Sola Scriptura. The truth is, the Reformers dragged this bit of furniture out of the Roman Catholic system, then scurried about to find justification for it. Such justification is found in their view of the continuity of the covenants. There can be no doubt there is a continuity between the covenants of the Old Testament and the New Covenant, but that continuity is one of type to antitype. Consequently, it flows from inferior to superior, from external, material, and physical to internal and spiritual, and from temporary to permanent. What the Bible does not teach is that every covenant made after the fall is merely an new and different administration of an over-arching covenant of grace.

Every child born into the nation of Israel was considered by an “accident of birth,” to belong to the covenant community. As members of that community, they were circumcised according to the law. Yet, that rite had nothing to do with the condition of their hearts before God. That community was largely made up of unregenerate rebels whose history was littered with numerous examples of their infidelity to Jehovah. It would have been altogether proper in such a situation for a person to say to his neighbor or to his brother, “Know the Lord.” In the new covenant community, such an exhortation would be inappropriate unless that “brother” was acting in a way that indicated he was a false professor. Of life under the New Covenant we are told “And they shall not teach, each one his neighbor and each one his brother, saying, ‘Know the Lord,’ for they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest” (Heb. 8:11). The new covenant community is comprised of professing believers, not believers and their children. Apart from faith, there is no evidence a person belongs to Christ. Baptism is our outward confession that we have died with Christ to the reigning power of sin and that we have risen with him to a new life. This is clearly not the case with infants.

Not only are new covenant believers never commanded to moisten their infants, but there is not a single New Testament example of an infant being thus moistened. If this practice is so important, why is no believer ever commanded to perform it. What I am saying is that we don’t need a theological system devised for the sole purpose of denying “baptism” to infants. All we need to do is practice everything the New Testament Scriptures command us, and ONLY what they command us. That in itself excludes the practice.

This same man actually asserts that anyone who does not embrace Covenant Theology is unconverted. He writes,

For those who are trying to be Calvinists without the covenant, including the covenant of works, this is a call to you to finish your Reformation journey. Stop standing at the boarder gazing into the city; come in and take your seat. All those inconsistencies that you have been trying to make sense of will make perfect sense in the context of the covenant. Most of all, you will finally sense the wonder of having Jesus’ fulfillment of the covenant of works credited to you, a covenant-breaker. Perhaps you’ve missed the forest for the trees. In your attempt to run from covenant theology, you’ve missed the Christ of the covenant and are even now unconverted. If you’ve heard Christ calling you in these pages, cast your anchor on Him. Then you’ll be able to say with J. Gresham Machen, “So thankful for the active obedience of Christ; No hope without it.”

I know I am getting old, but I can’t recall reading that text of Scripture that states, “Whosoever doth not embrace the tenets of Covenant Theology shall be damned.” Perhaps, it is tucked away in the Apocryphal literature somewhere. If this brother [perhaps he wouldn’t want me calling him a “brother” since he regards me as unregenerate] would simply provide an avenue to respond to his outrageous claims, I could write and ask him. Maybe it is just me, but I find it cowardly to post something on the internet without providing any means to respond.

Now, I can’t speak for everyone who rejects covenant theology, but I for one am thankful for Christ’s active obedience, and I don’t think I have “missed the Christ of the covenant.” I firmly believe Christ’s obedience to a covenant of works has been credited to me, a covenant breaker. The difference between our positions is that the covenant I believe Christ obeyed is, in the Scripture, actually called a covenant. I know, there is the lone proof-text in Hosea 6:7 that reads, “they like Adam have transgressed the covenant.” The thing is, these are ostensibly educated men, who know well that the word translated “Adam” can simply refer to a man. “Adam” and “Man” are translated from the same word. Do you suppose Hosea could have been saying these people have acted just like sinful man always acts when confronted with God’s demands and have transgressed his covenant?

That aside, is Hosea saying these people have transgressed the same “covenant” Adam transgressed, or is he merely saying they have acted like men made in the image of their father, Adam, in transgressing the law? The question is, which covenant have they transgressed? There can be no doubt that Hosea is charging them with unfaithfulness to the Mosaic code. Covenant Theologians are quick to insist that the Covenant God established with Israel on Mt. Sinai was merely a different administration of an overarching “covenant of grace.” How does one transgress a covenant of grace? A covenant of grace requires nothing of us as a condition of enjoying its blessings. A covenant of grace is a covenant of promise in which all the conditions have been fulfilled for us. Believers receive God’s covenant blessings by promise, not by works of obedience.

When the New Testament writers refer to “the two covenants” there is no evidence whatsoever that one of them is a pre-fall “covenant” God made with Adam. Instead, it is clear they were writing about the law of Moses and the new, gospel covenant.

Let me be clear that I am not denying that God made a unilateral demand on Adam and Eve in the garden. Nor am I denying that Adam stood as the representative of the entire race so that his act of disobedience was, in God’s reckoning, their act of disobedience. Additionally, I freely confess that if Adam had remained in his integrity, he and all his offspring would have remained in their original state of righteousness and would not have died [There is a difference between eternal life and unending life]. There is no promise that Adam would ever have been confirmed in his state of righteousness. The issue is, this is as far as the Scripture takes us. Everything else must be drawn from our ingenuity. Do we really believe in sola Scriptura, or do we believe in the Scripture and our own imagination. This man boldly states that God promised Adam eternal life if he continued in his integrity during the probation period that he had imposed on him. Thus, eternal life for himself and all his offspring was to be earned by perfect obedience under this covenant of works about which the Scripture says absolutely nothing. I continue to search the Scriptures in vain looking for the verse or verses that describe the probationary period described above. Certainly, if this man is going to be so bold as to declare that any who do not believe his theory are unregenerate, he must have clear texts, taken in their proper context to support his contention.

Is there a covenant of works? Of course, the answer is yes. Though it is not designated that way in the Scriptures, it is clear the old covenant or the law of Moses is that covenant. The law is clearly called a covenant and it is clear that its most salient feature is its demand for works of obedience. Listen to the way Paul describes the Law in the Epistle to the Galatians. He wrote, “But the law is not of faith, rather ‘The one who does them shall live by them.'” (3:12). He wrote much the same thing in Romans 10:5, “For Moses writes about the righteousness that is based on the law, that the person who does the commandments shall live by them.”

Now, it is true, the Scriptures never state that a person can earn eternal life, per se, by obedience to the law. Paul does tell us, however, that those who keep the law will be justified by it.

For all who have sinned without the law will also perish without the law, and all who have sinned under the law will be judged by the law. For it is not the hearers of the law who are righteous before God, but the doers of the law who will be justified.” ( Romans 2:12-13).

It was under this covenant Jesus was born (see Galatians 4:4), it was under this covenant he lived, and it was under this covenant he died. It is his active obedience to that covenant that is imputed to believers for justification.

There used to be a commercial for a fast food restaurant that asked the question of their competitors, “Where’s the Beef?” That is all I am asking from this dear gentleman who has been so ready to consign me to hell because I disagree with his system. You claim to be guided in matters of faith and practice by the Scriptures alone–“Where’s the Beef?”

02
Dec
11

The Permanence of the Ten Commandments

There are many who have though it edifying to label those who believe in New Covenant Theology as Antinomians, Neo-Antinomian, or Neo-nomians.  Some have given the impression that we are intent on attacking the Decalogue, since they have felt it necessary to defend it from us.  The reality is, if we truly believed the Scriptures taught that law, as a covenant, continues, we would, by God’s grace, proclaim it and seek to obey it.

Regarding the issue of the perpetuity of the Ten Commandments, I think it would first be beneficial to state some of what I believe are biblically based presuppositions on which I have based my conclusions.  They are as follows:

1.  The term “law” in Scriptures has many and varied meanings.  It may mean the Pentateuch or Torah, The Old Testament Scriptures, a principle, e.g. “I find then a law. . . .” (Rom. 7), so-called natural law, the law of Christ, God’s eternal, universal law and the Sinaitic or Mosaic Covenant.

2.  Related to number one, we must distinguish between the Mosaic Covenant or“The Old Covenant,” and the Old Testament Scriptures.  Though one has been fulfilled and replaced by the New Covenant, the other continues to have abiding validity for the New Covenant believer.

3.  When the biblical writers speak of “Law” related to the Mosaic Covenant, they never make the theological distinction between Moral, Civil or Judicial, and Ceremonial Law.  In fact, the apostle Paul linked the rite of circumcision and submission to it to the responsiblity to keep the “whole law” Though the Mosaic code clearly contained some commandments that pertained to the governing of the civil society and others were ceremonial in nature and still others were more of a moral nature, there was an integrity between them that cannot be dissolved.  The Tables of Stone were the covenant and the other commandments describe either how to carry out the covenant or what was to be done if the covenant is broken.  In reality, all these commandments were “moral” since to break any of them demonstrated a total lack of love for God.

In 2 Corinthians 3:6-7, Paul states that he is a minister of the New Covenant.  Then, he makes a clear contrast between the Old Covenant and the New Covenant with the words “letter,” by which he refers to the Law, the Old Covenant, and “Spirit,” by which he refers to the gospel or the New Covenant.  He calls the law the “letter that kills,” “the ministry of death,” and
“the ministry of condemnation.”  He then identifies that covenant with that which was written and engraven on stone.  He tells us that, 1.  He is not a minister of that covenant but of the New Covenant (v.6),  2.  That covenant was eclipsed in glory by the brilliant light of the New Covenant (vv 8-10),   3.  That covenant was passing away (v.  11).

If we contend that the covenant continues, then we must acknowledge that all 613 commandments continue as well.  This was one of the issues between the Reformers and the Baptists.  The Reformers, perpetuating the error of Rome, continued to believe the Church and the State formed a monolithic society, as was the case with Israel.  The Baptist believed in the separation of church and state.

4.  The commandments written on tables of stone were the covenant God made with Israel (Exo 34:28), are not the eternal, moral law of God as such.  God’s eternal righteous standard never changes.  It existed prior to the giving of the law on Mt. Sinai and continues after the coming of Christ.  God has expressed that law in many ways.  It was written on the human heart by virtue of the fact that, in Adam, God created us upright and in his own image.  It was written by God’s finger on tables of Stone at Mt. Sinai, it is now written on the fleshly tables of the believer’s heart in fulfillment of the New Covenant promise.  The Sabbath commandment served as a ceremonial sign of the Old Covenant (Exo. 31:17).  It continued as long as the covenant continued.  It was to be  observed for two reasons: 1.  Because God finished his creation activity and rested on the seventh day, and   2.  Because God delivered the children of Israel from their Egyptian bondage.  Both these reasons point forward to the redemptive activity of Christ.  He has become the believer’s “Sabbath rest.”  He was raised on the first day of the week, signaling the completion of the New Creation, and he has delivered us once and for all from the bondage of sin of which Egyptian bondage was a type or foreshadowing.  The communion cup is the sign of the New Covenant.  Every time we celebrate the Lord’s table, we are to  remember his establishment of the New Covenant of which we are a part by grace.

The only difference, in substance, between the decalogue and the law of Christ, both being expressions of God’s eternal law, is that the signs of the covenants are different.  The principal difference between the requirements of these two covenants, is that by God’s indwelling Spirit, New Covenant believers are enabled to obey what the Old Covenant could only demand.

5.  The Old Covenant was a covenant of promise.  In fact, all the covenants of the Old Testament Scriptures were only promissory in nature as far as the spiritual promises were concerned.  The law made nothing complete. Those promises along with the spiritual inheritance they were to grant would not become a reality until the seed should come with reference to whom the promises were made.

6.  The theme of union with Christ, is the central theme of the New Testament Scriptures.  In fact, Christ is the primary subject matter of both Testaments.  He said, “They are they that testify of me. . . .”  The theme of the book is not law, but Christ.

7.  We must understand the Scriptures from the perspective of the history of redemption, i.e., that which God has accomplished in Christ,  rather than from the perspective of the order of the application of redemption, that which God is doing in us.

I am sure there will be other presuppositions that we will discover as the discussion continues, but these should be sufficient to occupy us for some good time.  Based on these presuppositions,  there are just two questions I would like to propose to kick start our discussion.

1.  Assuming the Old Covenant was written on tables of stone and that those commandments written on tables of stone were what we know as the Ten Commandments, how can that covenant be said to be “passing away” if those 10 commandments are the eternal law of God?  How can Paul say, the Law was given until the Seed should come to whom the promises were made?

2.  If Paul states that there are those who have “sinned without law” (Romans 2:12), “do not have the law,” (Romans 2:14), and are “without law,” how can the law (in this case referring to the Decalogue) be considered universal?

He cannot be referring to the law written in every person’s heart, since no one is without that law.  It is impossible to sin without that law.   He cannot be referring merely to ceremonial or civil law since we are told they show “the works of the law written on their hearts.”  It seems highly unlikely that people worldwide understand that one must avoid shellfish or that if a woman sits on the bed while she is menstruating she will make the bed unclean.

If the Law, (Ten Commandments), is universal, how can anyone be “without it?”